Medical marijuana no longer a drag in conservative south

by Lynde Langdon
Posted 2/15/14, 09:30 am

Dustin Chandler wants to change his daughter’s life, and he needs a marijuana derivative to do it. Two-year-old Carly has a neurological and epileptic disorder that keeps her from walking, talking, or feeding herself. She suffers from regular seizures.

According to Chandler’s petition on, he has tried every possible treatment for his daughter except cannabidiol, a compound in marijuana that has been shown to alleviate seizures and other neurological symptoms. But cannabidiol is illegal in Alabama, where Chandler lives. Though 20 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, Republican lawmakers in the Deep South have opposed it fearing it could lead to a spread in drug use. 

But those attitudes seem to be relaxing as state lawmakers take up cannabidiol’s cause on behalf of Chandler and other families like his. The Georgia and Alabama legislatures are considering bills that would allow for the limited use of cannabis oil by those with specific medical conditions. Other Southern states also are weighing the issue with varying levels of support.

“I’m an unlikely champion for this cause,” said Georgia state Rep. Allen Peake, who attended Dallas Theological Seminary. “Once people realize it’s not a 6-year-old smoking a joint, most folks realize this is the compassionate thing to do.”

Peake’s bill has already earned the backing of more than 80 state lawmakers, including several members of the House Republican leadership, who signed on as co-sponsors. The bill would revive a long-dormant research program allowing academic institutions to distribute the medical cannabis and would be “limited in scope, tightly restricted, well regulated, and managed by doctors,” Peake said.

Alabama state Rep. Mike Ball, a former law enforcement official, is behind a bill that would allow people to possess the cannabis oil if they have certain medical conditions.

“The public is starting to understand what this is,” said Ball, a prominent voice on law-enforcement issues. “The political fear is shifting from what will happen if we pass it, to might what happen if we don’t.”

In Mississippi, Republican state Sen. Josh Harkins is sponsoring a cannabis oil bill similar to the ones in Alabama and Georgia. Harkins said one of his constituents has a 20-month-old daughter with Dravet syndrome, a form of pediatric epilepsy, and the oil can help reduce the number of seizures. Kentucky and Tennessee also have medical marijuana bills under consideration, though they have yet to gain traction.

And Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal indicated last month he was willing to consider legalizing medical marijuana.

“When it comes to medical marijuana … if there is a legitimate medical need, I’d certainly be open to making it available under very strict supervision for patients that would benefit from that,” Jindal said, according to a report in The Advocate.

Around the country, attitudes toward marijuana have shifted substantially in the past decade. A Gallup poll in October showed, for the first time since 1969, that a clear majority of Americans supports legalizing the drug. And politically influential voters, including independents and the elderly, are increasing their support. 

According to another survey released last spring by the Public Religion Research Institute, Christian young adults are in line with growing public support for the legalization of marijuana. Fifty percent of Christians ages 18 to 29 now support it, and 52 percent believe that using the drug is “morally acceptable.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Lynde Langdon

Lynde is a WORLD Digital’s managing editor and reports on popular and fine arts. She lives in Wichita, Kan., with her husband and two daughters. Follow Lynde on Twitter @lmlangdon.

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